According to Chambers dictionary, the word “horoscope” finds its origins in the Greek words hora, meaning “hour” and skopos, meaning “observer”. In terms of its definition, a horoscope is described as “an astrologer’s prediction of someone’s future, based on the position of the stars and planets at the time of their birth” or alternatively, “a map or diagram showing the positions of the stars and planets at a particular moment in time”. So in essence, a horoscope is the observation of the hour of birth of an individual, using it to make predictions about his future.
Historians have traced the origins of astrology back to Babylon, approximately around 2000 BC. It is believed that this ancient civilization had great respect for the sun, as it was clearly essential for their needs. Similarly, they also concluded that other heavenly bodies must also be equally important for the human beings in the way with which they impact them on a daily basis. The importance of the heavenly bodies was usually given to them by their size, the sun being the largest and the moon second. Therefore they named the sun, moon, and planets after their main gods and the stars after lesser deities.
Having established the significance of the heavenly bodies, they developed a belief system where the movements of the stars and planets were considered to represent actions or activities of the gods. Thus by carefully studying the movements of these bodies, they hoped to determine the “will of the gods” and thereby predict the future. Whenever the stars moved a particular way, they observed the events that followed. They then assumed that the next time these heavenly bodies moved in similar way, that similar results were to be expected. This is what led to the foundational principles of astrology and its later formulization into the study of horoscopes.
In 525 BC, when Egypt was conquered by the Persians, there was an influence of the Babylonians on what was later known as Egyptian astrology. As an example, the famous historian Tamsyn Barton gives an example of two signs; the Balance and the Scorpion, both of which were surprisingly common between these two distant civilizations.
When Alexander the Great began his conquest of Asia, he exposed the Greeks to the cultures and cosmological ideas of Babylon, Persia and central Asia. Around 280 BC, the Greeks with their newfound attraction for astrology, researched the heavenly bodies mathematically and "scientifically" and defined the signs of the Zodiac. The names of Greek and Roman gods were then assigned to the planets.
So all essence, it is clear from the pages of history that astrology finds its roots in pagan idolatry.
INFLUENCE ON ISLAM
After the conquest of Alexandria by the Muslims in the 7th century, and the founding of the Abbasid empire in the 8th century, the second Abbasid caliph, Al Mansur established the city of Baghdad as a centre of learning, which became a major impetus for Arabic-Persian translations of Hellenistic astrological texts.
Scholars such as Masha'Allah ibn Athari (c. 740–815 CE), Sahl ibn Bishr al-Israili (c. 786–845 CE) and Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi (c. 787–886 CE) were some of those at the forefront of translating ancient texts, taking up astrology as their preferred field of study and attempting to make it compatible with the principles of Islam.
However, they were heavily refuted on theological grounds by renowned astronomers such as Al-Farabi (c. 872–950 CE), Ibn al-Haitham (c. 965 –1040 CE) and Ibn Sina (c. 980–1037 CE). It was determined that the methods used by the astrologers were conjectural (speculative) rather than empirical (based on experimental evidence). It was also established that the views put forth by the astrologers conflicted with the well known and accepted Islamic principles, in particular the assumption that the Will of God can be precisely known and predicted in advance.
Looking now at our present times, we find the horoscopes and astrology has taken firm roots in the lives of vast number of people. Below are just some of the reasons why people are attracted to such beliefs:
- Predicting the future: The future often intrigues people, especially when times are tough. Whenever there is an air of economic recession, warfare, societal problems etc. people wish to see a ray of hope, even if it be through an unsubstantiated means.
- Knowing one’s personality traits: People are generally pleased to know what others have to say about them. Similarly with horoscopes, it makes them feel good to find out what character traits they possess based on their star sign.
- Taking advice from the stars: Quite often, people will seek solutions to their problems, be they related to business, marriage, financial matters or career issues by relying on the stars and which months, dates or times are most favourable for them.
- Explaining life’s meaning: Astrology makes a claim to mysteriously determine the forces behind occurrences and events, and why things happen the way they do. People are fascinated by this and wish to discover their own life’s meaning.
- Making one feel special: Horoscopes make it seem as if a particular individual is the only person with that specific star sign, thereby all of the predictions are made to seem tailored for that person, thereby making them feel special. However, the truth is that the same predictions are simultaneously made applicable to millions of other people around the world (with the same star sign), which when examined logically and rationally, cannot be true by any standards.
Those who try to offer a scientific explanation to how heavenly bodies affect our behaviour, need to realize that we are living, intelligent beings and our character is formed by living, intelligent beings. This includes, inheritance from our ancestors, influence of family and friends, social setup and upbringing. The sun, moon, and planets are all lifeless and unintelligent, with no evidence to show that they form our characters.
Having said that, it must be acknowledged that heavenly bodies do have some physical influence e.g. the sun gives light and produces energy, all other bodies can be seen giving light, the moon's gravity causes tides in the oceans etc. But all these influences affect everyone in a given area equally, regardless of what time of year they were born.
The Islamic view on horoscopes and astrology is very clear. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Say, ‘None in the heavens and the earth knows the Ghaib (Unseen) except Allah’”
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Whoever learns anything of astrology has learned a branch of witchcraft…”
[Abu Dawood. Classed as sahih.]
He (SAW) also said: “He is not one of us who practises augury or has it done for him, who tells fortunes or has his fortune told, or who practises witchcraft or has that done for him.”
Likewise all matters pertaining to fortune telling, regardless of the method used, all fall under one of the branches of shirk (associating partners with Allah). The Prophet (SAW) said: “Whoever goes to a fortune-teller and asks him about something, his prayer will not be accepted for forty nights.”
In another narration, he (SAW) said: “Whoever...goes to a fortune teller and believes what he says, has disbelieved in that which Allah revealed to Muhammad (SAW).”
[Abu Dawood 3904, at-Tirmidhi 3904, Ibn Majaah 936; classed as sahih.]
Based on the above, we can safely say that Islam not only disassociates itself from practices such as astrology and horoscopes but considers them to be sins that can take a person to the biggest sin, which is associating partners with Allah, the Almighty.